The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Views from a Desk in Chihuahua:
Manuel Merino's Report on Apaches and
Neighboring Nations,
ca. 1804
EDITED BY ELIZABETH A. H. JOHN
TRANSLATED BY JOHN WHEAT*
A TOTALLY UNEXPECTED FIND IN PARIS, THE UNDATED, UNSIGNED
document seemed on first examination nearly as baffling as it was
informative. Apparent at once were its significance as ethnographic re-
portage and its specific import for Texas. But intensive probing for its
provenance would reveal two other rewarding aspects. The document
not only affords a glimpse of the little-understood workings of the bu-
reaucracies of the commandancy general and the viceroyalty that ad-
ministered New Spain's northern frontier provinces. It also yields some
fresh clues concerning the materials and the dispersal of the "lost" ar-
chives of the Commandancy General of the Interior Provinces of New
Spain.
As ethnographic reportage, the document exemplifies a venerable
legacy of the Spanish colonial frontier. Great legends of conquistadors
notwithstanding, New Spain's northernmost provinces survived only by
coming to terms with Indian realities. In order to cope with the mind-
boggling array of indigenous peoples in the remote region now called
the Southwest, it was necessary to know them. Thus, from the earliest
encounters in the sixteenth century to the end of Spanish dominion,
careful, detailed reportage on the natives was a key responsibility of
frontier personnel. Such documents became vital resources for Spanish
statecraft then and for ethnohistorians now.
* Elizabeth A H. John is an independent historian engaged in research and writing, consul-
tation, and lectures. Her primary interest is in ethnohistory, with particular emphasis on the
American Indian, the Hispanic Borderlands, and the interplay of Indian and European
cultures
John Wheat has been archives translator at the Eugene C Barker Texas History Center at
the University of Texas at Austin since 1978 A professional archivist/librarian, historian, and
Latin American area specialist, he has taught in the Graduate School of Library and Informa-
tion Science at UT Austin, served as a translator and interpreter of Spamsh, and produced
Spanish-language radio programs and concerts.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed September 2, 2014.